The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Building Puppets: Part 2
For this section of the book, I’m pleased to present a look behind the scenes of some puppets created by Bronwen Kyffin and Melanie Vachon for a student film directed by Lucas Wareing at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver. Lucas took my stop-motion course at VanArts several years ago and more recently directed his own stop-motion short at Emily Carr called Ava, which was about the relationship between a little girl named Ava and her monster friend, Charlie. These characters (Figure 3.34) were designed by Patrick O’Keefe and commissioned to Bronwen and Melanie for fabrication, with the assistance of Ian Douglas in machining the armatures. Certain elements of their construction in relation to silicone molding and plastic casting will be detailed further a few pages later, but for now here is a look at how the general fabrication was done. (Except where noted, all photos in this section are courtesy of Bronwen Kyffin and Melanie Vachon.)
Both puppets were built out of metal ball-and-socket armatures (Figure 3.35), which are the strongest type of armatures for stop-motion and provide a great deal of precision and control over the animation. These types of armatures were certainly necessary considering that Charlie himself was about 16 inches tall (next to the 9-inch-tall Ava), and wire definitely would not have supported his bulk and weight. Charlie’s armature (Figure 3.36) was also equipped with chest and waist blocks that were cast in plastic. These blocks were designed to create more leverage with his eventual bulk, cut down on his weight, and give his skin something to hold onto. The blocks were screwed onto the armature with long threaded rods attached to the aluminum chest and waist plates, which had additional holes drilled into them (like Swiss cheese) to cut down further on the puppet’s weight.
Ball-and-socket armatures consist of many different kinds of joints that can be created. The joints most commonly revolve around a sandwich plate. The plate consists of two long, oval-shaped metal plates with holes drilled into them that wrap snugly around a ball bearing but are loose enough to move into increments. The sandwich plate can also be a U-shaped joint that is about half the size and shape of a full joint. The ball bearing serves as the joint and has a hole drilled into it, into which a metal rod for the limb is inserted and brazed together with a blowtorch. It is possible to buy threaded rods and ball bearings that are already drilled and tapped with threaded holes for this purpose.